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The Bullying Games

Last week, a story from the US caught my attention for all of the usual depressing reasons. It’s the story of a teen who took her own life following horrendous violence and bullying.

I read the story and then watched the public commentary on social media. I was saddened to read that the most common response was a revenge-fueled tirade about what the writer thinks should be done to the perpetrators. In the least, the responses are aggressive and, in the worst, physically criminal.

Make no mistake. These are adults threatening children and being cheered on by the mob.

Our job is to be the adults in the room when these mortifying incidents occur.

And it doesn’t take a particularly literate adult to read the research on the paltry and counterproductive impact of bullying of zero tolerance and punitive approaches. Further, we can see what works in this highly valid research by the University Of London. Spoiler alert – restorative responses are all over their Top Ten responses in schools that already do well in reducing bullying.


We need to get fair dinkum about bullying and stop playing games. Here are just some of the pointless games we’ve been playing:

  • The “End” Game. Stop acting like bullying can be ended. It can’t be. It’s a perfectly expected mistake that any young person can make. We all, especially kids, can be vulnerable to the intoxicating lure of feeling powerful at the expense of others.
  • The “Excuse” Game. Not being able to end bullying is not a reason to accept it or shy away from new, unfamiliar or unpopular ways to do better. There are kids’ lives at stake here.
  • The “Elimination” Game. Even in your school, you cannot stop all forms of bullying. This is a harm minimisation endeavour and time-effective response; cultures that make bullying hard and reduce harm when it occurs are our friends.
  • The “Beat Them” Game. Apply a label like ‘bully’ to any kid so that you can make an enemy to be defeated … and you can expect them to live up to that label.
  • The “Revenge” Game. Allowing our offence, frustration or outrage to write policies and procedures for us.
  • The “Awareness” Game. Honestly, if you think ‘raising awareness’ by having the kids spell out “Say No To Bullies” on the oval with their bodies while a drone takes a pic for your Instagram page is going to do anything about bullying … you go bananas. But we’re way past awareness now, people. We’re all aware it’s a problem. It’s time to act and change.

Our kids, especially those perpetrating and experiencing bullying, don’t need us to share their heightened emotional state when it comes to bullying.

They need realistic adults who are determined to stick with what works when it’s hardest.

Be that adult in the room/school.


Keep fighting that good fight,



PS. I’ve begun the year speaking to Principal groups across the country about concepts like these, and it’s so heartening to know that my passion for pragmatic change is shared. If you’d like me to speak at your next conference, you should let me know. Cos otherwise … I probably won’t turn up!

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